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Hugo Duncan: Life in down to earth Ireland suits country superstar Max to a T

TR Dallas
TR Dallas

By Hugo Duncan

It's not often that one of the world's top country music songwriters decides to set up camp in Ireland. But Max T Barnes, who hails from the United States and has already penned several hugely successful hits, is so taken with the way of life that he intends to remain part of it until the end of August.

He has already been in Ireland for several weeks and, in that time, has certainly been making his presence felt - in the most pleasant manner possible, of course.

Max T inherited his love of songwriting from his late dad, Max D Barnes, and he now finds himself enjoying fame in his own right.

"I only started scribbling a couple of numbers, but things kind of mushroomed from there," he told me.

"I was seeing songwriting as a bit of a hobby, more than anything. I never dreamed for a moment that I would have hit numbers on my hands.

"I have always found country music an outlet, a medium through which I can forget about my problems and relax.

"In the course of time, I got to feel privileged to not only play and sing country music but to get the chance to compose songs."

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Max D wrote tunes for country superstars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and George Jones.

When he died a few years ago, he left a rich country music legacy behind.

Max T inherited his father's love of writing and singing - so much so that he will devote practically all the time he's in Ireland to these pursuits.

"I have been in Ireland in the past. Now, when people ask me why I keep coming back, I have the answer at my fingertips - it's the warmth and charm of the Irish people themselves that attracts me," he said.

"I find them very outgoing. They all seem to love their country music and they do everything to make me feel at home. What's not to like about that?"

Well-known Tipperary promoter Billy Morrissey is the man who persuaded Max T that he might be able to add another string to his bow by bedding down in Ireland for a while, and the American artiste has never regretted this.

"I had the pleasure of performing with Margo recently as she undertook a number of dates to celebrate her 55 years in the entertainment business, and I have also got to meet some of Ireland's foremost country stars," Max T said.

"Ireland may be a small country, but it has sure nurtured some top-flight country talent. I was just lately on the Opry le Doire show with Daniel O'Donnell, who is a real star, not just here in Ireland but in places like the US and Australia."

Max particularly enjoyed collaborating with Johnny Brady. "Johnny is a great guy - we have become big buddies," he said.

Among the famous songs he has written are Love Me, which was recorded by Colin Ray, That's How Your Love Makes Me Feel, by Diamond Rio, and Before You Kill Us All, by Randy Travis.

Max T also had words of encouragement for me.

"I think you're doing a great job in relation to the promotion of country music and I know for a fact that radio listeners hold you in very high esteem - they certainly like what they hear on radio, from what I am told," he said.

While flattered by his compliment, I cannot begin to explain the impact he has had on the country music front.

Both as a performer and as a songwriter, Max T is right out of the top drawer - no frills, no fuss, just a real willingness to get the job in hand done.

I know he is fulfilling a number of dates for Billy Morrissey in the weeks ahead and I commend Max T's show to everyone.

It was just last Friday that I had the great pleasure of Max T's company at our BBC Radio Ulster outside broadcast from Maghera.

Our next port of call will be Irvinestown on Thursday next (July 11), when we will have a host of artistes on our outside broadcast, including Declan Nerney, Mick Flavin, Patrick Feeney and TR Dallas, among others, not forgetting the irrepressible Joe Mahon.

Cliona's in high demand with double set tomorrow

Jim Devine and his band will be paying a welcome return visit to The Ryandale in Moy tomorrow night on the cusp of what will be a particularly busy period for them.

They will be appearing at numerous festivals and other events over the course of the coming weeks, but they have a particular reason for looking forward to performing at The Ryandale.

"There is always a great atmosphere there and the people certainly love their dancing. It was one of the first venues that we played when we went on the road and, obviously, it holds fond memories for us. We have made many friends there and we will certainly be putting our best foot forward," Jim tells me.

And Cliona Hagan will also be in action along with her band tomorrow night at the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry. Indeed, Cliona is doubly engaged, as she will be appearing at the annual Omagh Show in the afternoon.

The show is always one of the highlights of the agricultural calendar in Tyrone and Cliona is looking forward to performing at the Showgrounds.

She and her band have been making waves in all areas of the country, and over the course of the coming weeks they will be making more frequent appearances in the south of the island, where they are currently attaining a high level of popularity.

Robert Mizzell and his band will also be in Omagh this weekend - tonight, in fact, where they will perform at Lola's in the Silverbirch Hotel. This is now regarded as one of the best weekend dances in the country, with patrons travelling from far and wide to sample the excellent facilities.

Robert's continues to be one of the busiest bands in the country and, in recent weeks, has performed in Spain and in England.

He will be busy in Ireland over the course of the coming weeks and is looking forward to renewing acquaintance with his many fans.

Tony and Sean have plenty more miles on clock

I would suggest that there are few acts that have logged up the mileage achieved by Tony McElvanna and Sean Wilson in their musical careers to date.

Since the two friends morphed into a highly successful duo many years ago, they have become firm favourites in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Spain, Australia, Canada and the US - and that's just for starters.

I have always thought that if you become a musician you can get to see the world and these two Tyrone guys have certainly achieved that.

They may have plenty of miles on the clock - their vehicle clock, that is - but there is no sign in the least that either will step aside from the stage. In fact, they tell me that they have seldom been busier or more contented.

"We're certainly getting around, but that comes with the territory. We have grown accustomed to the travelling and we just try and take everything in our stride," says Tony.

He had played with many of the big bands in Irish showbusiness, including Phil Begley, Susan McCann and yours truly, would you believe. Tony was also a much sought after session musician before linking up with Sean to form one of the best country duos.

Tony and Sean have achieved a unique sound on stage, the manner in which they blend together vocally is superb and they provide great variety in their programme.

Tony has played on many of the recordings I myself have made in the past and his imprint is always instantly recognisable.

They have a habit of coming up with something new and, indeed, they could be said to be trendsetters in musical terms. When it comes to selling CDs, they are out on their own.

Even much bigger acts acknowledge that the two lads are market-leaders in their field and that's why they have earned the respect of their peers.

It was a pleasure for me to have been on stage with them on numerous occasions in the past and I hope to share many more similar experiences in the future.

Driven to help by RUC wake-up call

It's maybe 20 years ago since it happened, but I have a very clear recollection of an incident involving Tony McElvanna and myself.

It was a call from the-then RUC at four o'clock in the morning that sent me scampering to the telephone to be informed that Tony had not one, but two flat tyres and was stranded at the roadside in Strabane.

My telephone number then was ex-directory, but when the police rang I confirmed that I knew Tony.

I threw on some clothes and took my new car (on which I had still to make the first monthly payment) down to the police station.

There, I told Tony to take it with him and return it to me when he had got the tyres on his own car changed.

"God, Hugo," said Tony. "I never expected to be given the use of a car in this situation.

"You don't do bed and breakfast as well, do you?"

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